Recreation space can be found in family-owned woodlands too


Family-owned woodlands offer 34 million acres of outdoor recreation opportunities. This is the fourth post in the "Vanishing Pieces of the Puzzle” series from the American Forest Foundation, showcasing new research on the benefits provided by family-owned forests—one-third of American woodlands—and the threats they face if we do not take action.

This article by Tom Martin, CEO of the American Forest Foundation and Ron Tipton, CEO of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy appeared on the American Forest Foundation website on June 18, 2015.

After a long, brutal winter for much of the country, the start of summer means using every opportunity to be outdoors and experience nature. In fact, June is National Great Outdoors Month and throughout the month there are opportunities to celebrate occasions like National Fishing and Boating WeekNational Trails Day and the Great American Campout.

For summer fun there are, of course, the usual places you think about like beaches and national parks, which provide plenty of opportunities to explore nature. But one place where many people find recreation and relaxation is on family-owned woodlands. In fact, according to new research, “Vanishing Pieces of the Puzzle,” conducted by AFF in partnership with the USDA Forest Service, a conservative 34 million acres of family-owned forests is known to be open to the public—an area the size of Arkansas—for everything from hunting and fishing to camping and birdwatching. This is in addition to the 83 million acres of land available to visitors at our national parks, providing endless amounts of space for recreation in the U.S.

Take for example Mike and Vivien Fritz, two family woodland owners who welcome 5,000 visitors to their Vermont property every year to ski, ride and walk trails, and enjoy learning about our country’s great forests. Similarly, one of the most popular places for outdoor activity is the Appalachian Trail, which offers 2,180 miles of hiking, exploring, camping and a quality outdoor recreation experience. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter what type of forest you’re in, there are activities to enjoy and opportunities for families to be together.

With all of the benefits that both family forests and our national parks provide, we must not take them for granted. Rather, we must realize all woodlands, public and private, are under constant threat from unpredictable natural disasters such as catastrophic wildfire, insects and disease. What many don’t consider is, wildfire and natural disasters know no property lines, and often cause destruction on both public and private lands. 

What’s worse, the prospect of clearing forests on private and family-owned lands for new homes and strip malls, as well as dividing land into smaller and less sustainable tracts, are by far the biggest threats to our continued enjoyment of this land for recreation. These family forests are often the backdrops for incredible vistas from the Appalachian Trail.

Our research shows we could lose 6.5 million recreation acres of family-owned forests alone to all these threats—an area the size of Massachusetts.

Organizations such as the Appalachian Trail Conservancy and the American Forest Foundation play a crucial role in advocating for our forests. Our goal is to make sure federal and state conservation programs including tax policies, make it easier for forest owners to maintain their land and provide a multitude of public benefits like clean water, wildlife habitat, space for recreation and wood for products. In addition, partnering with and engaging private landowners—through programs like the American Tree Farm System—are the keys to continuing to keep forests as forests, keeping the integrity of the Trail intact, as well as to opening up more private land for public recreation.

As you think about your summer outings, remember the rich resources that our family-owned forests and parks provide. Reach out to your legislators, both state and federal, and ask them to continue supporting legislation that helps keep forests as forests.

Source: American Forest Foundation, June 18, 2015.